10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Tampa
The city of Tampa, situated on an inlet reaching far into the west coast of Florida, is the economic centre of western Florida. The city centre is an area of high-rise office blocks, but Tampa also has historic old quarters such as Ybor City and Old Hyde Park.The maps drawn by the Spanish conquistadors show a number of Indian settlements around Tampa Bay. In 1824 the Americans built a fort at the mouth of the Hillsborough River directed against the Seminole Indians. After the Second Seminole War a port and trading center were established here, and this soon developed into a regional center. The Civil War brought a period of stagnation, until a boost was given to the town by the construction of the South Florida Railroad.
Towards the end of the 19th century Tampa became a fashionable winter resort. In 1886 the Cuban cigar manufacturer Vincente Martinez Ybor moved his business to Tampa and a new quarter, Ybor City, was built for his Spanish-speaking employees. The mining of phosphates in the surrounding area also gave a stimulus to the city's development.
Franklin Street is the pedestrian center of downtown Tampa. The area is bordered by I-275 in the north, Meridian Avenue in the east, Garrison Channel in the south and the Hillsborough River in the west.
See also: Where to Stay in Tampa
1 Busch Gardens
Busch Gardens is a 335 acre African-themed family entertainment and adventure park featuring thrill rides, live music, craft performances and a multitude of exotic animals in natural habitat settings. This is one of the must see attractions in the Tampa area for visiting families.
Also, visitors can take a safari to see animals grazing on the plains with reproductions of African villages and camps. Visitors can experience close up encounters with some of the animals.
The Serengeti Night Safari is another popular option at Busch Gardens.
Address: 10165 North McKinley Drive
2 Big Cat Rescue
Big Cat Rescue is a wildlife sanctuary for abused and abandoned big cats. It is a non profit organization that is home to hundreds of animals which include Geoffroy Cats, Jungle Cats, Clouded Leopard, Tigers, Servals, Caracals, Snow Leopards, Bobcats, and Lynx.
The facility offers guided tours only. You cannot wander the grounds freely like in a zoo setting. Nonetheless, this is a popular outing. If you are visiting with a child under the age of 10 you must take the "Kids Tour" which is only available on certain days.
Address: 12802 Easy Street, Tampa, FL 33625-3702, United States
3 Ybor City
The center of Tampa's Latin community, Ybor City is a National Historic Landmark District. It is named for its founder, cigar baron Vincente Martinez Ybor. He came to the region in the mid-1880's after workers at his Key West plant threatened to unionize. At one point, the Ybor cigar factory was the largest in the world with over 4,000 people hand-rolling more than 900,000 cigars a month. However, the Great Depression and machine rollers brought an end to the boom and most factories were closed and demolished.
In more recent years the area has experienced a revival and is home to many shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes. Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, known in Spanish as "La Septima," features some of the district's most historical buildings, several of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
4 Tampa Theatre
Built in 1926, the Tampa Theatre is a luxurious movie palace featuring a unique mix of architectural styles including Italian Renaissance, Byzantine and Greek Revival. It presents foreign and classic films regularly along with specialty concerts and other programs.
While you can see both new and old films here, watching one of the classics in this building is a great way to feel like you've stepped back to another time period.
Address: 711 Franklin Street
5 Editor's Pick Sunshine Skyway
Sunshine Skyway is located on I 275/US 19 and is a toll bridge. This multi-lane "highway on stilts", is 12 miles long and curves gracefully across the entrance to Tampa Bay. Its central feature is a 4.25 mile long high-level bridge, the middle section of which is suspended from two gigantic pylons, allowing the passage of large ocean-going vessels beneath. The old bridge was rammed by a cargo ship in 1980 and partly collapsed. Parts of the old bridge now serve as piers for anglers.
From the drive over the new bridge there are beautiful views out over the ocean. The bridge itself is also a beautiful sight and often photographed.
6 Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach
A manatee sanctuary is located across from a Tampa Electric power plant. The manatees are drawn here by the warm water produced by the power plant and can sometimes be seen in very large numbers. They are most prevalent when the surrounding water temperatures are cold, dipping below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Visitors will find a tidal walkway showcasing a variety of Florida plants and birds, butterfly gardens as well as an observation platform for the manatee. The Manatee Viewing Center is also home to an educational building that features the power plant and the manatees.
Address: 6990 Dickman Road
7 Lowry Park Zoo
Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo features more than 2,000 animals in natural habitats. Some of the exhibits include Asian Gardens, Primate World, Free-Flight Aviaries, Florida Wildlife Center, Florida Manatee and Aquatic Center, Wallaroo Station children's zoo, and Safari Africa.
This is a zoo that has grown over the years and developed into a quality facility that is very popular with locals. Visitors can feed some of the animals, including giraffes. In addition to the animals there are also rides and play areas for children.
Address: 1101 West Sligh Avenue, Tampa, FL 33604-4756, United States
8 Tampa Bay History Center
The exhibits at the Tampa Bay History Center trace the rich history of the Tampa Bay area going back 12,000 years. Early inhabitants of the region such as the Seminoles, the multicultural influences of the last five centuries, the railroad and shipping era, and regional geography are highlights of the Tampa Bay History Center. In addition to the permanent collection the center features a temporary gallery with changing exhibits.
This is a 60,000 sq ft facility with a glass front, located in the Channelside District.
Address: 801 Old Water Street
9 Henry B Plant Museum
Part of the former Tampa Bay Hotel, once owned by railroad tycoon Henry Plant, was turned into a museum in 1933. It is a luxurious Victorian palace with distinctive Moorish features. The Henry B. Plant Museum traces the history of the hotel and Plant's contribution to the development of Tampa and Florida.
The various rooms, such as the Grand Hall, the Reading and Writing Room, and the Garden room, feature fine period furnishings and offer a glimpse into the lifestyle of Henry B. Plant.
An avid gardener, Plant hired a prominent landscape architect to design the grounds, which are known for their lovely tropical gardens. The rest of the old hotel now houses the University of Tampa.
Address: 401 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33606-1450, United States
10 Columbia Restaurant
Located in Ybor city, the Columbia Restaurant is the state's oldest and the nation's largest Spanish restaurant. This historic institution was established in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernández, Sr. He opened a small corner cafe that now seats more than 1,600 people. There are several individual dining areas within the facility, including the original cafe which seats 60 people.
The Columbia is famous for its Spanish cuisine, dinner shows, and old-world architectural charm. Most nights there is a flamenco dance show. It also features Jazz in the cafe on some evenings.
Address: 2117 East 7th Avenue
Where to Stay in Tampa for Sightseeing
There are several good areas to stay in Tampa, depending on your reason for visiting. Staying downtown is a good option for sightseeing and entertainment. You may want to stay closer to Busch Gardens if this is the primary reason for your visit or near the stadium if you are coming to see a football game. Below are some highly-rated hotels in these prime areas.
- Luxury Hotels: In a prime downtown location, Le Meridien is a top-end hotel in what was formerly a federal courthouse and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A little removed from the action of downtown but in a nice neighborhood is the contemporary Epicurean Hotel. If you are coming to Tampa to see a game, the Renaissance, near the Raymond James Stadium, is a great option.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the heart of downtown is the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina, with waterfront views; nice outside patio areas; and large, comfortable rooms. In the same category is the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk, also with a nice location and scenic views. Both of these have pools and are conveniently located for visiting Ybor City or the Florida Aquarium. In a fabulous location in the Ybor Historic District is the Hilton Garden Inn, with an outdoor pool and hot tub. The Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Tampa N, near Busch Gardens, is a good option for families.
- Budget Hotels: A short drive from Ybor City is the Quality Inn and Suites, with a great location for this price range. Near the Raymond James Stadium is the reasonably priced Comfort Suites. Also good value and near the stadium is the Clarion. Both of these are a little far from the city center but within reasonable distance if you have a vehicle and perfectly located if you are here to see a game.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Tampa
- Save Money: If you plan to visit several of Tampa's top attractions, the Tampa TRIO pass will save you money. This great-value pass gives you admission to three Tampa attractions for one great price, including the Florida Aquarium, the Museum of Science & Industry, and Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. Best of all, the pass has no expiration date, giving you maximum flexibility to visit the attractions in your own time.
- Busch Gardens - official site
- Big Cat Rescue - official site
- Ybor City - official site
- Tampa Theatre - official site
- Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach - official site
- Lowry Park Zoo - official site
- Tampa Bay History Center - official site
- Henry B Plant Museum - official site
- Columbia Restaurant - official site